University News

Six to receive honorary degrees

Actor and director Ben Affleck and writer Junot Diaz will be honored at Commencement

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 25, 2013

Artists, scientists and college presidents are among the six individuals selected to receive honorary doctorates at this year’s Commencement ceremony May 26 .

The group comprises actor and director Benjamin Affleck, writer Junot Diaz, bacteriologist Stanley Falkow PhD’61, Tougaloo College President Beverly Wade Hogan, physician and health care nonprofit president Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, according to a University press release.

Hogan will give the annual Baccalaureate address May 25.

The honorary doctorate recipients are selected by the Corporation in consultation with the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees, a group composed of faculty members, a graduate student and an undergraduate student. The committee solicits submissions from the Brown community at large, whose nominations it may then pass on to the Corporation’s Board of Fellows for a final decision.

The Advisory Committee seeks recommendations for individuals who are revolutionaries in their fields, said Cade Howard ’14, the undergraduate member of the committee.

“The University looks for individuals who have, among other things, distinguished themselves in a particular field and embody the essential values of Brown,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

“What’s outstanding about this group is … they’re all kind of diversified,” Howard said.

Affleck, best known as a film actor and director, is slated to receive a Doctor of Fine Arts. His 2012 film, “Argo,” was honored with the Academy Award for Best Picture. He has also worked as a writer and producer and shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Matt Damon for their work on “Good Will Hunting.”

Affleck’s philanthropic work covers diverse areas, according to the release. His Eastern Congo Initiative, founded in 2010, aims to increase the visibility of social, economic and health care issues in Congolese communities, according to its website. He is also active in Feeding America, a nonprofit aimed at supplying food banks, and the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based cancer research charity.

Writer and professor Diaz will receive a Doctor of Letters. Born in the Dominican Republic, he immigrated to the United States at age six, according to the release. Diaz is a creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and fiction editor for the Boston Review. His 2008 novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In a 2012 New York Times review of his short story collection, “This Is How You Lose Her,” he is described as “almost too good for his own good.”

Among the others honored is bacteriologist Falkow, who will accept a Doctor of Science. He studies the molecular foundations for disease, beginning when bacteria enter healthy cells. Falkow’s research has shed light on factors determining infections brought on by salmonella and E. coli, among others. Having retired from the Stanford School of Medicine three years ago, at age 72, he received a flying license and is an avid fly fisherman.

Falkow will also deliver Saturday morning and afternoon’s Commencement forums, titled “The Impact of Infectious Diseases on History,” according to the release.

Tougaloo College President Hogan will be honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters. Hogan has been a life-long community welfare advocate, working on health care, mental health services and worker compensation, according to the release. She became president of Tougaloo in 2002, and her honorary doctorate coincides with the 50th anniversary of a partnership between her school and the University.

A Doctor of Medical Science will be given to Lavizzo-Mourey, a physician, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Under her leadership, this health care nonprofit has worked to reduce childhood obesity and control rising health care costs and strived for universal access to health care. Lavizzo-Mourey is also a member of the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Padron, who currently serves as Miami Dade College president, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. Padron has been the college’s president since 1995. He emigrated from Cuba at age 15 and attended high school, college and graduate school in Florida. In 2009, Time Magazine named him one of the ten best college presidents in the country for helping to “revolutionize the role of two-year community colleges in the U.S., raising their academic stature while preserving their mission to teach underserved populations.”

According to the Encyclopedia Brunoniana, honorary degrees have been a tradition since the first Commencement ceremony, at which 21 Masters of Arts degrees were awarded. It was not until 1784 that doctorate degrees became customary.

  • buy a refreshing mountain dew

    Diaz is cool, but I question the need to give an honorary degree to a professional pretender who used his massive influence to direct and star in a government propaganda film casting the CIA as heroes saving American lives in the dangerous and malevolent middle east while ignoring that those lives were in danger due to the fallout of the American overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government that wouldn’t give us the oil we wanted. Pretty cool that an oscar-winning film in 2013 covers only how the major political clusterfuck (that was solely the US’s fault) affects Americans working for the government that oppressed millions of Iranians. It’s even cooler that Brown would consider Affleck as an individual meriting such an honor.

  • fahrenheit290

    This must be a joke. Ben Affleck getting an honorary degree?? Are you kidding??? What films of note are on his resume? Really name one, because I can’t find a single film that stands out as a classic. What has he contributed to the art of cinema?? Who put his name up to receive an honorary degree, unless its a move by the university to appear relevant and hip.

    Argo is a joke, honestly. It was a popular film, but just because it won the Best Picture Oscar does that mean it is a great film?? The Director’s Branch of the Academy rightly did not nominate Affleck, for work that failed to illuminate anything about the Middle East, and was formulaic in its approach to the thriller genre and its portrayal of Iranians (and the six American captives). It was a star-driven vehicle rather than a director-driven one, playing to surface emotions and concerned more about how Hollywood looked to audiences rather than depicting a challenging, probing snapshot of our troubled history in the region—something Brown should know a thing or two about. Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty surpassed Argo in every way and will be looked at and studied for years to come. Affleck’s other films are hardly notable, his acting work middling and he’s only just starting to emerge as a director, having now directed three films.

    When you look at who in film is most deserving of being celebrated, the names that come to mind are people who have played a huge role in the direction of the art form, having participated in films that are true masterpieces and have withstood the test of time. I’m glad Yale honored Martin Scorsese, someone who fits this description with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas and has done so much for cinema preservation. He just gave the Jefferson Lecture, the most prestigious humanities lecture in the United States. THIS is someone worthy of an honorary degree from an Ivy League school, who is hugely respected by not only the Academy but also film studies professors (I can’t see any of them putting Affleck up for this Brown distinction), critics, and the public. Affleck quite frankly has a long long way to go….

    • John

      Calm down. Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting, directed Best Picture-winning movie Argo, etc. And he is a good human being in addition to everything else. I don’t know what your beef is with Ben Affleck but he’s a fine, fine choice.

      • fahrenheit290

        Being a good human being does not make one deserving of an honorary degree from one of the prestigious schools in the world. Good Will Hunting put Affleck on the map, but in no way is it an extraordinary script or the product of a **unique** and fresh voice in Hollywood. I find his directing career enormously encouraging. Keep in mind: that’s only, three movies. In between pretty much the year 2000 and Gone Baby Gone in 2007, his acting work was subpar and Argo solidified a comeback to the A-list, hence why the industry wanted to reward him this year. I would put many other people before him who have contributed to the art form, even if their work wasn’t popular or mainstream enough to win Best Picture. I think Jack Nicholson was honored by Brown a few years back; now there’s a great choice, an actor of enormous talents in so many classics of American cinema, the greatest of his generation. There’s a standard that Ivy League schools should be held to and I think such a choice takes some credibility away from the award. Honorees should be a cut above their peers, true artists with enormous respect from filmmakers and the public and a body of work that speaks to a distinctly singular and lasting vision. That’s all I meant.

  • johnlonergan

    Really? Is this the best we can do? Are these the best and the brightest out there? I would love to see Brown offering awards to the next Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi. For that matter, where are the US Presidents, the Nobel Prize winners, the Mother Teresa’s in these awards? Why didn’t they attend Brown?

    How sure can we be that Brown’s current students will contribute more to the world than those who’ve attended in the past?

    Why aren’t Brown grads making a bigger impact on the world?